Starring Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe and Jessica Brown Findlay
This film is insane. And not in the positive 90’s slang interpretation of the word. As in this film has problems with its sanity, a conveyor belt of implausibility so unflinching I almost want to support its existence. For better or worse (almost entirely worse) I haven’t seen a film quite like this before, a film that lovingly pictured itself as a romantic Modern day fairy tale, and instead ended up somewhere in the realms of sleep-deprived acid trip.
The directorial debut of the king of script doctors Avika Goldsman, A New York Winter’s Tale tells the story of Peter Lake (Farrell) a thief in turn of the century New York. He’s on the run from king of the underground/demon who crushes miracles Pearly Soames (Crowe), a scar-faced thug with a questionable Irish accent. Whilst on the run, he meets a girl half his age Beverley Penn (Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay) with whom he immediately falls in love with. Oh she’s also dying. Of something called Consumption. Oh and there’s a flying White horse with rainbow wings in there too, plus a magical black guy, unexplained immortality and the Devil as played by Will Smith.
Goldsman is not a popular person on the internet. Batman and Robin, perhaps the last big superhero movie before the age of the nerds, has been used as the yardstick of what can go wrong ever since, the symbol of comic book movies before the Nerds took over the asylum. Shallow, campy and barely giving a shit. Goldsman wrote that movie, so no doubt there are some nerds dwelling in dark corners of the internet, sharpening their knives to eviscerate this passion project gone so badly wrong.
The film feels completely bereft of supervision and polish, the kind of film that can only be made by someone of a certain standing in Hollywood, and the very fact that this film exists suggests Goldsman has reached it, whether it be for his script polishing work or for the various blockbusters he’s contributed to over the years. It’s these kind of films that make up best of all time lists, and the worst of all time lists. Films made with freedom by people who are supposedly good enough to have earned that freedom.
Despite the decent star wattage it possesses, the film goes down in flames. From Farrell going through the motions, to Crowe struggling to get to grips with his Irish accent and giving a performance that isn’t quite big enough to be enjoyable but isn’t small enough to be genuinely threatening or intriguing. Jennifer Connelly shows up for a bit in a role that doesn’t really give her anything to do, and while in theory I approve of casting Will Smith as the Devil, it feels like a slight missed opportunity for a man who’ll probably never play a villain again to play one in this poorly conceived catastrophe. Jessica Brown Findlay is the only one who brings any real gravitas to proceedings; she is excellent and hopefully will get some better work out of this.
A New York Winter’s Tale is a righteous piece of garbage, no allowances necessary. That said, I stand by the fact that more films like this need to exist. It is exactly the kind of thing Hollywood has rewired itself to avoid over the past 15 years. All that corporate interference, the mantras of playing it safe, the choosing bland over bad or good, all comes out of wanting to avoid films like this. The big, expensive flop that gets eviscerated by the critics, gets made fun of on twitter, gets a dozen people fired and generally makes everyone in the system look a mug. But these films are vital, because without the freedom given here, we wouldn’t get films like Inception or The Lego Movie or Avatar, all big risky projects that made a ton of money for everyone involved. Business is risk, and Hollywood is no different. To quote the lazy screenwriter’s failsafe, you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. So Avika Goldsman is shit, and should never be allowed near a director’s chair again, but that doesn’t mean the next guy or gal you give this opportunity to will be the same. This ultimately is how you break out of the disease of blandness that currently infests mainstream film-making, and it won’t always be pretty. Boy was this not pretty though.